New research project to aid Albertas rural deaf
By: Viola Pruss
| Posted: Wednesday, Oct 17, 2012 03:16 pm
Rural communities lack the amenities of large, urban hubs. For those with disabilities, life in remote towns is often difficult, leading to social isolation and a lack of services.
To remedy some of these shortcomings, the Alberta Rural Development Network recently announced a plan to research the use of technology to increase support and services for Alberta’s rural deaf community.
The network will collaborate with the Alberta Association of the Deaf, Alberta Health, and the University of Alberta, which is leading the project. Paul Watson, research director for the network, said the Alberta Association of the Deaf approached them over concerns that too many deaf seniors lived in isolation in rural communities.
Originally, Watson said the association suggested increasing the number of individuals sent into rural communities to assist professionals and seniors.
“We didn’t think that was a sustainable approach so we suggested looking at some alternative means of doing this,” Watson said.
“Considering today’s technologies and our ability to communicate through android phones, iPhones and iPads, we thought perhaps something there might prove more useful.”
The three-phase project will first review literature on technologies used by deaf people across North America, Australia and Europe. It will later test these technologies, and consider their effectiveness and adoption.
Watson said the project has already expanded – now focusing on rural deaf people in general and not only on seniors.
Debra Russell, David Peikoff Chair of Deaf Studies at the University of Alberta, is working with the Alberta Association of the Deaf on researching available technologies to support deaf people in rural communities. She said interpreters often lack the time to drive from urban centres into smaller communities to assist with appointments.
Social isolation among rural deaf people is not only a concern when contacting doctors, nurses or accountants, though. They also lack the ability to build relationships and communicate with people in their community, and other deaf people in the area.
Russell said the use of technology could offer greater access to interpretation services and help develop a peer support network.
“Many people who are hearing use Skype across all kinds of geographic boundaries and so we are looking at similar ways to connect deaf people with other deaf people,” she said.
“The more communication they can have, the better their lives are.”
To aid the research, the University hired a hearing-impaired student to review the literature from a deaf person’s perspective. Once the literature review is completed, Russell said potential candidates for the service will be trained on the technology and interviewed to test its effectiveness.
Candidates and locations are chosen based on their remoteness from urban centres.
Watson said most of the research focuses on Australia, a country similar to Canada. Most its population lives in urban clusters along the coastline, with a few isolated communities in the countryside that often lack access to services.
At this point, Watson said the only cost associated with the project is buying the technology.
First results on the literature research are expected by the end of January 2013.